Throughout winter, fishermen mull over this question as anticipation builds for the arrival of migrating striped bass. Every year is different, and exact timing in each location seems to be strongly influenced by water temperatures along the Atlantic coast.
By tracking fishing reports from charter captains, contributors, and readers at OnTheWater.com, we mapped the striped bass spring migration from the Mid-Atlantic to Maine in 2015 and 2016, two very different years that provided some interesting insight into the timing of the striper migration.
In 2015, a historically snowy and cold winter kept water temperatures cool well into the spring, delaying the striped bass migration along the coast and resulting in later arrivals than most fishermen could recall in recent history. Still, the waters eventually warmed, and by mid-June, big striped bass had been reported from the Jersey Shore to southern Maine.
In 2016, a strong El Nino blessed the East Coast with a remarkably mild winter, and the migration got off to an early start. Fresh schoolie stripers arrived early on the south-facing beaches of Rhode Island and Martha’s Vineyard, and by early May, keepers were being caught north of Cape Cod. Again, by mid-June, the maps for 2015 and 2016 looked almost identical.
So, what will 2017 bring?
Find out by following along as we track the Striper Migration, and contribute to our map updates by sharing your striper fishing reports and photos!
Bass Migration Basics
Striped bass are anadromous fish. They live their adult lives in the ocean but migrate into brackish bays and freshwater rivers to spawn. On the East Coast, there are three major spawning grounds: the tributaries of Chesapeake Bay, upper Delaware Bay/Delaware River, and the Hudson River in New York.
Smaller striped bass—schoolies—are the first to arrive along the coast in spring. This is because smaller, sexually immature striped bass bypass the spawning grounds on their way north. Male striped bass reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age (at approximately 16 to 20 inches of length), and female striped bass mature at four to six years of age (at approximately 24 to 28 inches of length).
The timing of the arrival of larger striped bass, the 28-inch-plus spawning fish, depends on the timing of the spring spawn. Spawning takes place earliest in Chesapeake Bay, as striped bass move from their wintering grounds off North Carolina and Virginia into the Bay in mid-March. Spawning is slightly later in the Delaware River, taking place in early April, and a few weeks later in the Hudson River, typically mid- to late April.
Through tagging studies, scientists have found that individuals from different spawning stocks tend to exhibit different migration habits. The Chesapeake Bay spawning areas produce most coastal migratory striped bass (estimated 70-90%), and fish hatched in the Chesapeake Bay exhibit more extensive migrations. Those that hatch in the Hudson River generally do not migrate beyond Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to the north and Cape May, New Jersey, to the south.